Varroa Diaries: Flanders & Moffett – A Numbers Game

In the Hawke’s Bay the beekeeping operation of Flanders and Moffett have been able to effectively control their varroa mite numbers by keeping a close eye on some other numbers. In our second installment of Varroa Diaries, we learn how the three-beekeeper, 1800-hive operation is counting brood boxes, brood frames, strips used and – perhaps most importantly – hives in each apiary, to effectively control varroa.

The fight against varroa is becoming increasingly complex in many areas of the country, as large populations of the mite force adaptions in pest management plans. The Flanders and Moffett varroa treatment regime is still heavily reliant on tradition synthetic miticide treatments of Apivar in spring and Bayvarol in Autumn though, followed by oxalic acid “fogging” through the winter months. However, it is other management practices that limit multiplication and spread of varroa that is aiding their successful management, owner Jeff Flanders says.

The team at Flanders and Moffett, from left Duncan Lobb, Jonty Moffett, Jeff Flanders and Rod Ryder.

Flanders, along with his two fellow beekeepers, have experience working with larger commercial operators, including iconic Hawke’s Bay company Arataki Honey, prior to the launch of his business with local orchardist Jonty Moffett in 2017.

“We've seen what to do and what not to do,” Flanders says.

They are careful to get the ratio of Apivar and Bayvarol strips to bees correct, so as to get an effective mite kill, reduce the likelihood of mite resistance to treatments, and also prevent over spend.

“We count our frames of brood and match the number of strips we put in. We usually put three Apivar in through spring, then in February with Bayvarol the bees are not right across ten frames, so we put mainly three Bayvarol in the bottom box and sometimes four. After that, in April, we ProVap (oxalic acid vaporizer) all our hives and usually do it twice.”

Average winter losses average to about eight percent of hives.

The process of “fogging” hives with the ProVap is effective on phoretic mites, that is those not under the cap of brood cells. It may leave some small acid crystals in the hive which have an impact on newly emerged mites in the coming days, Flanders believes, but the main purpose is a quick knockdown of phoretic varroa.

Jeff Flanders says a ProVap oxalic acid vaporizer is a crucial part of their varroa pest management plan, alongside twice-yearly synthetic treatments.

Bayvarol is providing Flanders and Moffett with good varroa control in autumn time, but Flanders does stress the importance of following that synthetic treatment up with something else before, and then during, winter.

“If you haven't got all your mites off with your strips, you need to be hitting them with the ProVap within a couple of weeks of strips out. But you've got to do a couple of treatments. You want to hit them to make sure you have hives clear of mites going into winter. Then in July, we give them another hit with the ProVap. April and July and it works. I wouldn't just hit them once,” he warns.

With two ProVap vaporizers and two people, Flanders and Moffett can treat about 200 hives a day. While there is the initial capital outlay for the vaporizer, the running costs are low: some diesel for a generator, staff time and a small amount of oxalic acid, Flanders says.

“A ProVap is about $1,400 to start with, but after that we bought a 25 kg bag of oxalic acid and we haven't even used that in four years."

While the numbers stack up there, there are some other key management practices where the 1800-hive operation also relies on getting the numbers right, including apiary sizes.

“We're keeping our sites to an average of 16 hives, which helps with varroa control. I drive around and see 40 to 50 hives at some beekeeper’s dump sites and it’s not doing them any good. A lot of the companies bring hives into dump sites and they haven't got round and put all their strips in at the same time, because they can’t. That's just reality. So, when they bring them all back into town, they've got so many mismatched dates. You're making a volatile decision to do that,” Flanders warns.

Controlling the amount of hives in each apiary and nearby is an important part of Flanders and Moffett's varroa control programme.

Most of Flanders and Moffett’s apiaries are distanced from other beekeepers’ apiaries, a luxury that makes varroa management easier. There is a noticeable difference in varroa present at apiaries where neighboring beehives are closer and more abundant though, the owner says.

Within their own apiaries they don’t just keep total number of hives down, but reducing the number of brood boxes on a hive is a varroa management ploy too.

“The biggest thing is running a one height brood box and keeping your brood down,” Flanders says.

“That keeps your mites down big time. The drone brood isn't there as abundantly, so the mites aren't getting hold.”

So, it’s a numbers game on several fronts for Flanders and Moffett, all aiding the goal of keeping the number of varroa mites low.

Anyone wanting to learn more about Flanders & Moffett’s varroa control can contact the business via email: flandersmoffett@gmail.com


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